Ernö Dohnányi (aka Ernst von Dohnányi, 1877-1960, grandfather to Christoph von) was born in the Hungarian town of Pozsony and enjoyed a notable career as a pianist and a conductor, and also as an administrator, including of Hungarian Radio and the Franz Liszt Academy of Music. The music on this Nash Ensemble release from Hyperion is very engaging and eminently well-crafted.
The five-movement Serenade (1902) is an extrovert and beguiling piece, tangy and folksy, dusky and expressive, lively and rustic. The volume control needs a turn downwards, however, to avoid fierceness (ditto throughout, for the disc’s transfer level is rather high and first-off this is but three players, all virtuosos of course, their teamwork spotless, the clarity and projection vivid; find the correct setting and the sound is first-class, not least regarding dynamics and tonal fidelity).
Weightier matters inform the Third String Quartet (1926), full of passions and unpredictability, shades (no more) of Bartók, echoes of Ravel (his 1903 String Quartet) and inhabiting the emotional and contrapuntal complexities of Brahms’s chamber-music. Dohnányi’s piece is very impressive, full of engaging invention, and this intense account of it is very rewarding, whether the capricious turns and fervent nature of the first movement, the solemn hymnal (Andante religioso) that opens the ingenious Variations of the second movement, and then in a Finale that is as driven (with something saved to the end, even so) as it is skittish.
The 1935 half-hour Sextet is diverting in its instrumentation, used colourfully if somewhat darkly in the first movement, ruminations abound in late-Brahms-style (such as the Clarinet Quintet), the sort of music that keeps you absorbed and the aural equivalent of a page-turner, and similarly with the gravity of the second-movement ‘Intermezzo’, a title that Brahms more or less copyrighted for some of his most-personal utterances. Lighter fare inveigles the third movement, another set of entertaining Variations (scampering vying with lush) on a charming tune given to the clarinet, the whole segueing into a perky Finale that embraces a Viennese waltz, one that has a leaning to inebriation.
With this Nash team – invidious to mention individuals, but Richard Watkins’s horn-playing is immaculate, ripe as required, and every note Ian Brown contributes is charismatic (Sextet only) – the performances are impressive and delightful, sensitive and full of panache.